Capitalising on winter seed varieties and incorporating multiple fungicide applications in their annual cropping program have become successful management tools for the Bell family at Millicent to combat challenges faced by farming in a high rainfall area.
Although proving to be a productive system for Tom Bell and his father Greg, who crop 2350 hectares of wheat, canola, hay and broad beans, interest is focused on long-term solutions to the impacts of disease, pests and waterlogging in the South East.
The Bells operate in a 750-millimetre annual rainfall area.
Tom said five years ago they incorporated winter varieties, Hyola 970 canola and more recently Manning wheat, to take advantage of the longer season and weather-tolerant traits.
He said an increase in yield had occurred since adding the winter varieties as they handled the wet conditions through the vigorous growth that has been achieved in the plant breeding.
While forward progress was being achieved, Tom said more pest and fungicide tools were needed if the region was to get ahead of damage caused by snails, slugs and plant diseases.
"Snails and slugs are our biggest pest because they like the wet conditions. To combat them we do an initial baiting pass on canola at about 10 kilograms/ha,” he said.
"Last year being so wet meant we spread four passes of up to 350 kilograms of urea on some wheat and canola.”
The SE weather conditions are also ideal for septoria tritici blotch and leaf rust disease in wheat, which has prompted the Bells to apply at least two passes of fungicide and trace elements to help with yield.
Beside pests, waterlogging is an issue, with their high-value broad bean crop normally the hardest hit.
Sowing 550ha of broad beans for export trade, Tom said waterlogging could affect yield in all of their crops but the beans were generally less likely to bounce back.
“The excess water rots the tap root, causing the plant to shut down,” he said.
Applying urea on suffering wheat and canola crops alleviated some of the pressure by raising plant health and nutrition, but Tom said broad beans were not as responsive to a nitrogen boost.
A part of the Mackillop Farm Management Group operations committee to help initiate crop productivity progression in the region, Tom believes a solution lies in SE-specific trials on fungicides and plant growth regulators.
"It would be great if we could run a trial similar to the Tas Hyper Yielding Cereals Project, where they are hoping to get a wheat crop to yield 20 tonnes/ha by the year 2020," he said.
The Bell family’s long-term strategy is to source new varieties, use growth regulators and focus on nutrition to aid productivity in wet seasons.
Access required to new varieties, spray chemicals
INTENSIVE monitoring of the South East’s high-value crops is one practice Millicent Farm Supplies agronomist Tim Moyle believes can alleviate the disease and pest pressure the region faces.
Attending the recent GRDC forum at Lucindale that discussed the greatest impacts on growers in the region, including disease management, Mr Moyle said crops were managed and monitored more intensively in the region compared to drier areas because of localised issues of waterlogging and septoria tritici blotch.
He said if issues raised by growers at the forum could be addressed or possibly answered, it would help the long-term profitability and sustainability of graingrowers.
“Knowledge is power, and if we can provide more information to growers and advisors who face different challenges and issues within high rainfall areas then this can only be beneficial,” Mr Moyle said.
“It gave growers and advisors the opportunity to have input in the direction of where GRDC funding and research goes.
“If we can find new technologies, varieties and fungicides for specific issues, it can only have a positive affect on productivity,” he said.
On a tour to New Zealand, Mr Moyle found out the varieties, fungicides and herbicides used were very different to Australia.
“We need access to these new varieties and chemistry,” he said.